L.A.-Boston: A Lesson for Convention Cops 

Thursday, Mar 11 2004

As Boston prepares for the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles taxpayers are still being billed for police conduct four years ago. In the last two weeks, the City Council agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle two lawsuits filed after the 2000 convention at Staples Center.

The council voted March 3 to pay $1.2 million to resolve a class action brought on behalf of demonstrators, journalists, rock fans and passersby injured by rubber projectiles and police batons after officers cut short a concert held near the “protest pit” north of Staples, the focus of dozens of organized demonstrations during convention week in August 2000.

Thousands of people gathered in the early evening of August 14 to hear Rage Against the Machine and, later, Ozomatli, when a group of about 100 began lighting fires and throwing broken glass and chunks of concrete at police. Sometime after 8 p.m., officers ordered the entire crowd to disperse. Most people were leaving the area, the complaint said, when police armed with “rubber munitions” began firing.

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The complaint, which names 14 plaintiffs, said the LAPD intended to end a lawful demonstration even without provocation from the group of violent demonstrators.

Plaintiffs said the LAPD trampled peaceful participants with their horses and improperly used “chemical weapons,” batons, rubber bullets, rubber slugs and beanbags to disperse them. Lead plaintiff Eric Berg said he was clubbed with a baton, without warning or justification. Others were hit in the face and arms with rubber slugs. Julie Johnson was waiting to take a shuttle as an invited guest at the governor’s welcoming party for California delegates when she was surrounded by officers and shot in the leg, according to plaintiffs’ documents. Alan Rausch was on a first-aid team and was giving aid to a patient in the designated “protest pit” when he was clubbed and shot.

Plaintiffs’ attorney James Muller, who handled the suit along with Cynthia Anderson-Barker and Robert Mann, said he was “pleased with this preliminary stage” of the settlement, which must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper.

A suit brought by seven journalists, arising from the same events, was settled in 2001 for $60,000 and an agreement by the LAPD to permit reporters to stay on the scene and continue their work after police declare an unlawful assembly.

In February, the council agreed to pay $875,000 to settle a suit brought by a group of bicyclists, who planned a ride downtown to demonstrate non-polluting forms of transit but were arrested by the LAPD at 18th and Flower for “reckless driving.”

That settlement must be approved by the Los Angeles Superior Court.

The same plaintiffs won $2.75 million from Los Angeles County last fall over their treatment by Sheriff Lee Baca’s deputies at the jail. The female riders each faced a strip search and body-cavity search — twice. One search took place before they were arraigned. The second, and more controversial, search came after the court ordered them released and they were returned to the jail for “processing.” In addition to the county payment, Baca promised to revamp jail procedures.

Attorney Timothy Midgely said he hoped the Police Department remembers that its job is to protect constitutional rights as well as public safety. He also noted that the City Council often congratulates the LAPD for a “wonderful job” but seldom mentions, when approving a settlement, that “maybe it wasn’t such a wonderful job after all.”

Deputy City Attorney Shaun Dabby Jacobs, who represented the city in both the bicycle case and the class action, did not return calls.

Perhaps the most-watched case arising out of the 2000 convention is set for trial in May. The suit seeks an injunction to change LAPD crowd-control practices. It is one of at least a dozen lawsuits filed against the city in connection with police conduct.

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